Monday, May 23, 2005

Clouds, wind, and....

When I got to the airport this morning, I was a bit slow to get started with the preflight. I farted around with this and that, not really accomplishing much. The wind was gusting, sometimes to 20 knots or so according to the windsock which occasionally stood straight out. I had a tough time determining if I was actually GOING to fly, but proceeded as if I were. I fueled, did a preflight, put a little grease on the propshaft pillow block bearing bolts because they were starting to rust. The grease was probably just as unsightly as the rust, but at least I would be able to get the nuts off the screws next time I need to change drive belts. The wind died down a bit, at least for a while, so I decided to fly.

My intended destination this morning was a private airstrip, Spear Memorial in Lapine, Alabama. I've flown to this strip once before near the end of 2004. I was a bit bummed because I forgot to bring the CF card for my camera so I wasn't going to be able to take pictures. The GPS said the airport was about 18 miles pretty much due east, which sounded about right. I took off on runway 33 and headed around Ft. Deposit to the north before heading east. It was moderately bumpy and there was about 40-50 percent cloud cover with breaks at regular intervals. At 1500 feet it was still pretty bumpy so I decided to try a bit higher. As I climbed, it appeared that I was getting closer to the clouds than the 500 feet minimum. I would estimate that the clouds were at 2200 or so as I climbed past 1800. I really wanted to see if the air was smoother above the clouds, but I have never really flown above the cloud layer and was a bit apprehensive. Due to my marginal climb performance, it was harder than I thought to be able to go through one of the larger breaks quick enough to keep from being engulfed by a cloud. To make matters worse, the closer I got to the clouds, the bumpier it became. I chickened out and decided to stay below the cloud layer at about 1700 feet. I would have liked more altitude due to the non-abundance of clear fields to land in, but there were enough where I didn't feel too uncomfortable.

My GPS seemed to malfunction a time or two. During my ascent and descent trying to get above the clouds, the Altitude reading seemed to stay exactly the same for maybe a minute, even though I knew I wasn't holding. Then it would read again, but with a big difference from where it was stuck. I also noticed as I got closer to the airport, the distance to the straight line course to my destination seemed to be off somewhat, maybe a few hundred yards or so. This observation was verified when I visually spotted the airport. I circled the small, paved strip looking for the windsock and signs of people or activity. Finding neither, I passed over mid-field and set up my approach. As I was approaching the strip, the wind was wildly blowing the trees in front of me. I navigated a couple of bumps on my way to the ground, but the landing wasn't as bad as I was expecting. The GPS was still reading that I was 1/2 mile from the airstrip. A half mile isn't that bad, but coupled with the altitude reading, I was starting to wonder what was going on with my trusted navigational aid.

I circled the tarmac, approaching the big, arched, open ended hanger. Last time I was here there was a Tri-Pacer, a Cherokee, and a big Aero-Commander Shrike twin in the hanger. I was wondering how the twin got in. Strip is only 2900 feet long and really narrow, probably 25-30 feet wide. Today, only the Tri-Pacer and the Cherokee were there, as well as a couple of dogs and a cat. No people whatsoever. I didn't even shut off my engine. I taxied out and took back off, circling above some fields near the end of the strip as I gained altitude. The trip back was uneventful, but with a good tailwind. My groundspeed was 45-50 MPH. I arrived at the airport, checked the windsock and flew the pattern in preparation for landing. Lots of things going on with the wind in the trees at the runway numbers. I was being tossed about pretty well. I kept a bit of power on as I worked the rudder and elevator hard trying to stay centered on the runway. I even had to add some spoiler action to keep the wings level when I got close to the pavement. This was probably the most difficult landing I had ever made, but I touched down on the pavement and as all my flying speed was gone, it happened...

I heard a big pop and I looked down at my right tire to see it was going flat quickly. I pushed the left pedal to counteract and I found that I could keep the nose pointed down the runway. I carefully taxied on the flat tire, watching to make sure that my plastic rim wasn't getting closer to the runway where it would be abraded to shreds. I made it back to the hangar and worked like hell to pull the plane back in the bay. I was very thankful that the flat didn't happen while I was at the other strip and I was also happy that there were no major mishaps on the landing due to the flat. I suppose it would be a good idea to look at tires on the preflight, but I never have paid much attention to their condition. I guess I will now!


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